| March 22, 2018

Football: Open Field Success

April 11, 2016

Senior Deon Watson provided a spark for the Vandal offense during the team’s second scrimmage of the spring season.

The tight end amassed 216 receiving yards on nine receptions Saturday during the team session at the Kibbie Dome.

“He’s working the hardest he’s worked since he’s been here,” Petrino said. “He’s just playing really well right now and doing a good job.”

The senior averaged 24 yards per catch and recorded four touchdowns Saturday. Waton’s performance included a 67-yard touchdown pass during the second half of the scrimmage.

“That was a lot of play calling,” Watson said. “Coach (Petrino) put us in a lot of positions where we could thrive.”
Petrino said Watson’s versatility as a tight end and wide receiver combination allows the Vandal offense to confuse opposing defenses.

“What doesn’t show up as much out there to everybody is how much he has improved on his blocking,” Petrino said. “So then he can play tight end and we can run the ball. We’ve had a lot of our best runs with him at tight end this spring.”

Sophomore quarterback Jake Luton finished the practice with 19 completions on 33 attempts for 431 passing yards. The sophomore recorded six passing touchdowns, including a 69-yard pass to senior wide receiver Callen Hightower to conclude the scrimmage.

“He keeps improving every day,” Petrino said. “There’s still things that he can continue improve on. There were a couple plays where he needs to know exactly where he’s going, but getting all these reps has been huge.”

Sophomore Gunnar Amos completed 12 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns.

Junior Reuben Mwehla also showcased his skills during the scrimmage. The wide receiver collected 158 yards on seven receptions.

Mwehla was on the receiving end of a 56-yard touchdown pass from Amos late in the scrimmage. The junior averaged 22.6 yards per catch and ended team activities with three touchdown receptions.

Transfer wide receiver Alfonso Onunwor finished with five catches for 71 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown pass from Amos near the end of practice.

“I think (the receivers) stepped up,” Watson said. “I think the O-line has helped out quite a bit too, just with the timing of the quarterback. But the receivers themselves have stepped up emotionally and brought some energy to the team, which is what we need.”

Running back Aaron Duckworth led the Vandal backfield with 122 yards on 14 carries. Duckworth recorded two touchdowns and averaged 8.7 yards per rush.

The junior demonstrated his strength with a 65-yard touchdown run late in the scrimmage. Duckworth barreled over defensive back Jordan Grabski in the open field on his way to the end zone.

“That was actually really exciting,” senior center Steven Matlock said. “It looked like it was going to be a good play towards the start, but once he got outside and ran down the sideline and then cracked Jordan off his shoulder…it was cool to see. It was a good play.”

Redshirt freshman Denzal Brantley provided another strong performance in the backfield by rushing for 95 yards on 12 carries.

Brantley averaged 7.9 yards per rush during the scrimmage.

“He’s explosive and has good balance,” Petrino said. “He can both run and catch, and he’s a pretty good pass protector. I think he’s just got to keep improving. That’s a lot of the same stuff I saw last year when he was a redshirt.”

Petrino said the competition in the backfield for the starting role has allowed the running back core to excel on the field.

“I think that’s one of the best things – when you see your teammate play really well, and then you have to play really well to stay up with him,” Petrino said.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Tony Lashley led the Vandal defense with 11 tackles and three potential sacks. The sophomore also deflected a pass from Luton early in the scrimmage.

Senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan recorded an interception from Luton late in the first half, returning the interception 39 yards for a defensive touchdown.

“Two guys that stick out to me in the secondary that have had great springs are Dezmon Banks and Jayshawn Jordan,” Petrino said. “I think those two guys have really improved and that’s going to help us.”

Sophomore linebacker Ed Hall recorded another nine tackles for the Vandals, while freshman linebacker Tarik Littlejohn deflected two passes.

“I just thought we came out fast and ready to play,” Hall said. “I didn’t think (the offense) came out slow. We were just getting off blocks and doing our right assignment.”

The Vandals will hold the team’s annual Silver and Gold spring game at 7 p.m. April 22 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

Josh Grissom can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @GoshJrissom

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